Sector News Digest – January 18, 2022

This month: the historic Indigenous child welfare settlement; Omicron pressure on non-profits; poverty and disability; and a new crop of environmental youth leaders.

Indigenous child services settlement

Early in the new year, the federal government and First Nations announced the end of a 15-year-old legal battle to adequately fund on-reserve child welfare services and compensate victims of past abuse. Patty Hajdu, minister of Indigenous services, acknowledged that these practices aren’t “just harmful and wrong and morally repugnant, it is shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of prosperity for the entire country.”

However, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, isn’t celebrating the $40-billion settlement, the largest in Canadian history, just yet. She’ll gauge its success “at the level of the child, not on paper,” she told APTN. As she told Global News, “it’s not time for any of us to exhale,” citing the importance of public pressure, litigation, and advocacy in pushing the government to admit its culpability.

Sector advocates also showed their support, with Save the Children tweeting, “We are now eager to see a real change for First Nations children.”

(For more insightsabout the historic court case filed by the Assembly of First Nations and the Child and Family Caring Society of Canada against the federal government, watch the 2016 National Film Board documentary We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice.)

Omicron destabilizing non-profit sector

Following the Ontario government’s decision to delay reopening in response to the Omicron outbreak, the 58,000-member Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford and several cabinet ministers warning of the impact on its members. “There has been no strategy, no plan and no stabilization support for Ontario’s nonprofits. The piecemeal approach must end now. The continual seesaw of contracting and expanding services with little notice has taken its toll.”

ONN warned of another round of closures in the hard-hit arts, culture, and sports and recreation sectors, as well as the pandemic’s “secondary effects,” such as food insecurity, deteriorating mental health, youth unemployment, and violence against women.”

The ONN requests six immediate actions, including ensuring budget flexibility with 2021/2022 transfer payment agreements, creating targeted programs for non-profits affected by closures to support operating expenses, and repealing controversial Bill 124 wage restraint measures so non-profits “can recruit and retain the workforce they need to remain open and viable.”

In a recent article, Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, advocacy director of YWCA Toronto, calls Bill 124 “a major barrier” to recruiting and retaining staff. The bill caps wage increases for public sector workers, including non-profits, at 1% annually for three years. Omicron has exacerbated the situation for an already “overwhelmed” network of women’s shelters facing chronic staffing shortages, according to Women’s Shelters Canada executive director Lise Martin, who says calls to help lines and femicides have risen steadily – 92 in just the first half in 2021, compared to 60 in 2019, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.

Youth leading the fight on climate change

The Starfish Canada Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 program, which showcases “the best in Canadian youth environmentalism,” revealed its 2021 winners last week. From British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, youth are taking action, from making films about climate anxiety to repurposing tennis balls and bolstering food systems.

Eighteen-year-old Warsha Mushtaq, Saskatchewan’s Youth Poet Laureate for 2021/22 and the leader of the Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee, sees storytelling about the “interconnected relationships in nature” as a channel for education and engagement. Fifteen-year-old Naila Moloo, recently named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network, builds transparent and flexible solar cells and also develops bioplastics from duckweed.

“There is a lot of negative coverage in the media about climate change, and while its effects are certainly detrimental, there is increasing innovation unfolding that many people are not aware of,” Moloo told The Globe and Mail in a piece featuring five other Canadians advocating for the planet.

Starfish’s Top 25 program, which launched 11 years ago, has spotlighted the work of more than 300 youth leaders. Winners receive job and mentorship opportunities, funding for their ideas, and paid speaking engagements.

Calling out CEO pay in the pandemic

While many will remember 2020 as the beginning of the global pandemic, it was just “another year in paradise” for Canada’s top CEOs, according to a new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report. Canada’s highest-paid CEOs, heading firms such as Canopy Growth Corporation and Air Canada, were paid 191 times more than the average worker, or an average of $10.9 million.

By lunch on January 4, these CEOs had earned the same amount the average worker makes all year, the report notes. More than a third led companies that received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.

CCPA analyst David Macdonald, the report’s author, doesn’t mince words about this state of affairs: “When it comes to recover[ing] the expense of re-building our health care systems in addition to supporting workers and businesses hit hard by the pandemic, a basic principle should be at play: those who did the best during the pandemic should be expected to pay more than those who did the worst.”

The CCPA recommends several tax measures, including a 1% tax on wealth over $20 million in Canada, which would generate about $10 billion in revenue in its first year.

Addressing housing affordability

Seventy-four organizations from across Ontario, including Feed Ontario, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and numerous United Ways, have signed an open letter in advance of the January 19 provincial-municipal housing summit. They call for “bold and visionary” action to address housing affordability.

“The affordable housing crisis converges with broader social and structural inequities that contribute to deeply rooted opportunity gaps in the province,” they write.

One of their 10 recommendations to “build a fairer and more equitable recovery and foster economic prosperity across the province” is to partner with and increase support for the non-profit housing sector, an “essential partner,” they note, that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians rely on for subsidized housing. Other recommendations include making rent more affordable and redefining what affordable truly means (a.k.a. not having to spend 30% to 50% of your household income on rent). “Let’s call it like it is,” writes United Way Greater Toronto in this handy Twitter feed.

Last August, housing was called the “sleeper issue” of the federal election. Vote Housing, a national coalition of more than 160 organizations, wrote, “No one in Canada should ever have to choose between food and rent, or worry if their kids will be homeless when school starts. This is solvable. It’s time we fixed it once and for all.”

Raising awareness about disability poverty

When it comes to living with disabilities, the pandemic made visible the invisible. For example, lockdowns have shown able-bodied Canadians what it’s like to face transportation barriers.

But Rabia Khedr, the national director of Disability Without Poverty, says COVID also provides an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to draw attention to the issue of disability poverty. “Canadian philanthropy has a strong track record supporting initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. Foundations have an opportunity to engage people with disabilities in many ways within their organizations and with the support of their organizations.”

In a recent blog post, Khedr notes that people with disabilities make up 22% of the population – but 41% of the population living in poverty. “We have people with disabilities living amongst us in a so-called developed country, a prosperous nation where abundance is enjoyed by some, and despair is the reality of many,” she writes.

Khedr points to grassroots projects such as Artivism (the combination of art and activism) as an initiative to provide artists with disabilities with opportunities to tell their stories. “People with disabilities have a lot to say about public policy in this country,” she says. An e-petition calling on the federal government to fast-track the Canada Disability Benefit garnered nearly 18,000 signatures from across the country by its closing date last week.

An article in The Conversation about research conducted by two recipients of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grants highlighted the inequity of COVID-related government supports for people with disabilities. Two-thirds of respondents didn’t apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) simply because they weren’t able to work and were therefore ineligible. As a result, after more than two years, the pandemic has left many in “a very precarious situation.” One respondent noted, “I live each day on the edge, wondering if I can make ends meet tomorrow and see if I can feed myself type of thing.”

The researchers conclude that “CERB is an example of a liberal welfare policy that distinguishes between the deserving and undeserving,” excluding “the most vulnerable in our society” and giving rise to Charter challenges that allege disability discrimination.

The pandemic’s impact on rural Canada

For the past half century, policy-makers have thought the future belonged to cities. But with a pandemic-induced exodus to rural areas, now’s the time to “re-think that narrative and ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth builds community well-being for people who live in communities of all sizes,” according to the authors of a recent First Policy Response article. “Government policies have often focused on remote and rural communities as places to subsidize instead of places that can thrive and innovate.”

According to Statistics Canada, Montreal and Toronto posted record numbers of out-migration between July 2019 and July 2020, with the exodus picking up steam throughout 2021. In some rural communities in Nova Scotia, whose population surpassed one million for the first time in December, people are buying homes sight unseen.

Policies to Support Sustainable, Inclusive, and Digital Economic Development in Rural and Smaller Communities in Canada points out thatmillions of Canadians, and the majority of Indigenous people, make their homes in rural Canada, which accounts for nearly one-third of Canada’s GDP. Research shows that businesses in rural Canada have weathered the COVID-19 storms better than their urban counterparts, in remaining operational during the pandemic and reporting less drastic decreases in revenue.

The authors propose numerous ways to keep the rural renaissance-ball rolling, such as place-based economic strategies, among them building climate resilience, welcoming more newcomers, and investing in public transit.

Welcome to Canada

A recent press release from the federal government announced the arrival of more than 250 Afghan refugees, including 170 human rights defenders, noting that many had “worked for decades documenting human rights abuses in Afghanistan and intend to continue their work in Canada with the assistance of Canadian and international non-governmental organizations.”

Lifeline Afghanistan, a network of individuals and organizations responding to the crisis in Afghanistan, reminds us that the journey doesn’t end at our border. The group points to a Toronto Star article about the “enormous hurdles” awaiting refugees as they try to rebuild their lives, such as finding housing and living on a monthly allowance of $1,100 in Toronto, one of the most “severely unaffordable” cities in the world.

Events and diversions

  • On January 27, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Manitoba Chapter hosts Bruce Macdonald, CEO of Imagine Canada, for an online State of the Sector talk and “some thoughts on what may come in 2022.” Register here.
  • The Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s $3-million National Anti-Racism Fund grant, which “seeks to support organizations to combat racism, promote events and education, and build a more anti-racist society,” is open for applications until January 28. For more information, click here.
  • “What role can philanthropy play in advancing disability rights?” Find out by attending Generous Futures: Advancing Disability Rights, a webinar on January 31 that includes panellist Taylor Lindsay-Noel, CEO of Cup of Té, who was recently named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Black Business and Professional Association Harry Jerome Awards.
  • Join the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) for “An Afternoon with Mayor Gondek and Calgary City Council,” part of its Nonprofit Connections speaker series. The February 25 event will be the CCVO’s first in-person session since November 2019. Get your tickets here.
  • Nominations for Canada’s Volunteer Awards for 2021 will be accepted until March 4. Click here for “a terrific way to say thank you to the great volunteers in your community.”
  • Do you have 20 to 30 minutes to spare? The Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia’s workforce insights survey seeks to understand the state of the East Coast sector to better advocate and tailor programs and resources: “your organization is critical to creating the full picture,” they write.


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